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2010 Porsche Cayman

It just might be the perfect sports car. It might even be the perfect Porsche.

The Cayman along with its Boxster roadster relation constitutes the entry point into the Porsche sports-car fold, but the Cayman gets the nod as one of the best looking mass-produced automobiles ever made.

It’s considered such a powerful automotive aphrodisiac that it has likely drawn in numerous Porschephiles who would otherwise have been forced to shell out additional coinage — about $25,000, base price to base price — for the notch-up-the-ladder 911 coupe.

Since its 2006-model-year inauguration, and following a 2009 makeover, the Cayman has established itself as the must-have sports car for gentrified enthusiasts looking for a light and lively machine that also comes with a surprisingly roomy cabin plus ample luggage space.

Viewed head on, the Cayman replicates the Boxster’s general shape, although it does feature uniquely styled air intakes and fog lights. However, this Porsche’s real claim to styling fame is its bootylicious rear end that eschews the chopped-tail look displayed by its competitors in favor of a pair of bulbous fenders that frame a neatly integrated hatch. Said opening lifts to a nearly vertical position for accessing the engine as well as one of two cargo holds (a larger storage well is located under the hood). In short, the Cayman is a car that any designer worth his or her salt should use for inspiration, whether sketching on a cocktail napkin or perched in front of a computer screen.

Yes, it looks good, but it’s also sickeningly functional. Aside from toting all sorts of luggage (about the same storage space as the trunk of a Honda Accord), the interior is tasteful and stresses function over form, from the shape of the firmly supportive seats (five different styles to choose from) right down to smallest control panel switch. You won’t find any plasticky trim or other decorative disasters here, only high-quality leather, wood, aluminum and carbon fiber finishings.

Pushing the starter button activates one of two available engines. At $52,350, the base Cayman arrives with a 265-horsepower 2.9-liter six-cylinder, while the $62,450 Cayman S increases the performance threshold with its 320-horsepower 3.4-liter six. Interestingly, the same powerplants installed in the Boxster roadster are rated at 255 and 310 horses, respectively. In typical Porsche fashion, both engines are “flat”, instead of traditional V arrangements, with one bank of three pistons firing at 180-degrees to the other bank. This keeps the center of gravity low and improves packaging.

Both models share the same six-speed manual transmissions, or optional seven-speed PDK (short for an unpronounceable, multi-syllabic German phrase for automated manual) gearboxes, regardless of engine displacement. The PDK’s shifts occur at lightning-quick speeds and make for greater fuel efficiency and acceleration when compared with the six-speed manual.

According to Porsche, a PDK-equipped Cayman will reach 60 mph from rest in 5.4 seconds, while the S version reduces that time to 4.8-seconds. That’s one-tenth quicker than with the six-speed manual. But adding the available Sport Chrono Package that produces even quicker shifts and higher engine revs will reduce both times by a further 0.2 seconds.

A locking differential that improves traction on slippery or uneven pavement is also on the options list.

Among the few changes for the 2010 model year is a recalibrated suspension that, Porsche claims, improves the car’s already impressive ride comfort and maximizes cornering control. Both characteristics can be enhanced with the Active Suspension Management. This system instantaneously adjusts each shock damper according to road conditions, based on whether the driver selects the Normal or Sport setting.

Other than engine selection, perhaps the most expensive extra-cost feature is the ceramic disc brakes, offered only on the Cayman S, that are impervious to heat fade, even under extreme use (such as racing) and weigh half as much as the standard brake package. Price? A mere $8,150. Add the $5,000 aero body kit and the $13,000-plus expense would be sufficient to purchase a sub-compact runabout for another family member. Or, sticking with Porsche, you’re right in 911 territory.

But hang the expense, the Porsche Cayman, arguably the best looking and most competent sports machine on the market, promises to reward its passengers with ear-to-ear grins that are simply beyond value.